‘It Takes One Day’ - read a giant blue-coloured banner as one walked into the Greenfield International Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
The clouds played hide and seek; the ground staff was busy providing ‘finishing touches’ to the square, and busy Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) officials supervised the last-minute work at the venue to ensure things were prim and proper.
With Kerala hosting an ICC event for the first time, the cricket association has left no stone unturned to make the moment special. Posters and banners of the World Cup have been put up across the city, ticket announcements have been aired on local radio stations, and even the KCA has launched a promo, highlighting the traditions and culture of the State.
While tickets for India’s fixture against The Netherlands on October 3 have been sold out, the response has been lukewarm for the other fixtures - beginning with South Africa versus Afghanistan on Friday.
Though the organisers are optimistic that fans will turn up in large numbers as the tournament progresses, there are threats of thunderstorms as well. The city has witnessed intermittent rain over the last few weeks, and even on Thursday afternoon, there were short spells of showers.
However, the teams are unfazed about the weather forecast and hope to test their strengths over the next five days, before the World Cup begins on October 5. For South Africa, Aiden Markram will lead the side in the absence of its regular captain Temba Bavuma - who has returned home due to personal reasons - when it takes on Afghanistan and New Zealand.
Reeza Hendricks is expected to open the batting in Bavuma’s place. Though the team sources confirmed to Sportstar that Bavuma will be rejoining the squad in time to play its opening World Cup fixture against Sri Lanka in New Delhi on October 7, his absence in the warm-up would certainly affect the team’s planning.
In recent times, Bavuma has played a key role in the South African top-order, having scored centuries against England, the West Indies, and most recently an unbeaten 114 against Australia earlier this month.
In his absence, the team had a long training session on Thursday afternoon, with batting coach JP Duminy ‘monitoring’ the proceedings. As Markram, Rassie van Dussen and Quinton de Kock faced the local spinners, Duminy walked up to them every now and then, making sure the mistakes were rectified.
Keeping Afghanistan’s spin department - comprising Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Noor Ahmad - in mind, the South African top-order spent more than an hour in the nets, tackling the local net bowlers, some of whom impressed de Kock as he praised them with ‘Shabash, Shabash’.
Afghanistan trained in the evening, with Rashid and the seasoned Mohammad Nabi dominating the sessions. Rashid was involved in a game of football along with Noor, and throughout the session, he made it a point to interact with the youngsters and make them feel comfortable ahead of a big-ticket event. Afghanistan players enjoyed a small break, despite reaching the city a couple of days ago, and ahead of yet another World Cup, the team - that has a blend of experience and youth - aims to get off to a winning start.
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